This is a periodic newsletter of the interesting things we’ve seen and what we are thinking about in open source policy analysis.

November 27 Policy Simulation Library (PSL) meetup at AEI. The PSL project is hosting a meetup with AEI’s Open Source Policy Center on November 27th. Guest modelers will demo computational policy models, followed by Q&A and refreshments. Cody Kallen, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will present the Paid Family Leave – Cost Model, an open sourced model written in Stata, for evaluating the total cost of paid family and medical leave policy proposals. Weifeng Zhong, an AEI research fellow, will demo the Policy Change Index (PCI) for China, an open source model that analyzes text of the Chinese state-run newspaper and predicts changes in policy. PCI-China relies on R, Python, and TensorFlow. The upcoming PSL meetup will be hosted in the AEI auditorium on November 27. Registration and social time will begin at 5:00 pm, and presentations will begin at 5:30 p.m. Link

Lowering barriers for tax policy analysis. The IRS is extremely protective of taxpayer privacy, and due to its (rightful) protectiveness, one of the most challenging aspects of analyzing tax policy is access to data. In a newly published report by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (TPC), TPC proposes steps toward creating a “synthetic” tax dataset that would be more accessible than what is currently available to researchers. By preserving statistical characteristics of the data while concealing any identifiable tax return information, the synthesized data will allow tax policy analysts to produce better and more open analyses. Link

Preparing for wildfires with open source code. When the devastating forest fires raging in Northern and Southern California are contained, the work of foresters, analysts, and fuels specialists will not be over. Their new responsibility will be to manage the burned-out forests and prevent or mitigate the next fires. A crucial tool at their disposal will be simulation models. One such model, the Fire and Fuel Extension (FFE) to the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS), developed by the US Forest Service, allows foresters to simulate the effects of various forest management techniques (i.e., thinning, prescribed fire, etc.) on fire behavior and is used to prevent or mitigate forest fires around the country. The Forest Service goes to great lengths to include outside experts with their open-FVS open source project, which is intended for “university, private, and other government organizations who wish to participate in enhancing FVS . . . without the impediments caused by restricted access to the Forest Service’s internal repository.” Updates are nearly daily. Link

FDA open sources code behind data collection app. The FDA has just released the code behind the MyStudies app, a tool designed to collect patient data for clinical trials and other studies while safeguarding confidential patient information. Researchers can now access the MyStudies code on GitHub and modify it to fit their needs. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb (formerly our colleague at AEI) believes that the move toward better and more open capture of real world data “has the potential to make our new drug development process more efficient, improve safety and help lower the cost of product development.” Link

Microsoft acquires GitHub for $7.5 billion. GitHub is a popular platform for hosting repositories of code, and it is used extensively by the open source community. The projects that the Open Source Policy Center incubates and advises, for example, all collaborate on GitHub. Microsoft has embraced open source under its CEO Satya Nadella, and its purchase of GitHub is another sign that open source has gone mainstream – at least from the view from Microsoft’s campuses in Redmond. Link

And IBM acquires Red Hat for $34 billion. Just days after Microsoft closed the GitHub acquisition, IBM announced that it would acquire Red Hat, an open source software solutions company, for a whopping $34 billion. Easily the biggest acquisition in IBM’s history, and one of the largest ever in the tech sphere, Red Hat will bring its massive open source technology portfolio, its cloud platform, and its vast open source user base to IBM as Big Blue attempts to keep up with cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform. Link

Edited by Matt Jensen
American Enterprise Institute